General Negotiation July 25, 2012

Separate the Message from the Messenger

People, in the midst of a disagreement, tend to blend the person opposing them with the positions this person is taking. Separating the message from the messenger is essential if we wish to reach a long-lasting agreement...

People, in the midst of a disagreement, tend to blend the person opposing them with the positions this person is taking. Separating the message from the messenger is essential if we wish to reach a long-lasting agreement. But it takes practice to do so.

For most of us, separating the messenger from the messages does not come naturally. Practicing often will help. You’ll have more opportunities to do this than you think. Every disagreement or difference experienced at home or at work, or even when watching television can provide a good opportunity to do so.

A talk show like, “The View” or “Meet the Press” will allow you to measure how well you handle viewpoints with which you strongly disagree. Instead of clicking off or fast-forwarding the viewpoint you so dislike, force yourself to listen intently through their arguments and reasoning. This can be difficult, but it is a valuable process.

Your tendency, like mine, will be to disparage the ideas you don’t agree with. You may find yourself making negative remarks to others in the room or surfing for a new channel. You may even find yourself calling the person speaking an idiot or worse- and seeking revenge by moving to a good basketball game.

Once the tendency to dismiss or disparage opposing views is recognized, you’ll be in a better position to change this habit. The reality is that opposing negotiators will rarely advance arguments you like or find easy to listen to. Learn to listen intently to television pundits expressing opposing ideas.

It will help you become more open-minded in dealing with others. If you hear them out without building personal barriers, they will give you clues that lead to creative collaboration and reasonable compromise.

Another good place to practice is at the dinner table at home. Try it when dealing with your spouse, loved one, children or in-laws. If you can separate the person from their position in contentious home disputes, you will be better able to do it anywhere.
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